Updated: Feb 4, 2019
Ministries throughout the United States are continually challenged on how to serve those in their community who are experiencing homelessness.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Annual Homeless Assessment Report, as of 2017 there are approximately 554,000 homeless people on a given night in the United States, or 0.17% of the population.
ChurchWest has been getting calls about ministries for people experiencing homelessness that various churches were considering. That led us to hold a one-day conference last year on the issue.
If you missed it, we discussed ways to examine internally how individual churches are currently equipped to serve. Part of that process includes connecting and talking with the community your ministry is trying to serve to see if skills and resources match the local need. Once that process is complete, we ask each church to connect with us so that we can check the insurance and provide guidance as this ministry develops.
‘It takes a village’ in working to provide help and residences for people experiencing homelessness. Last year, the Grove Community Church in Riverside witnessed the need and then designed a ministry to build four tiny, 600-square foot homes on their own campus. This tiny neighborhood is now known as the Riverside Grove Village.
Although the Grove team could not attend our conference (it happens!), a member of our staff who attends the church excitedly told us, “You gotta hear what we’re doing!”
Our ChurchWest team quickly set up a discussion with the Grove leadership team, who explained what they were doing and provided us with the planning documents. Brotherhood Mutual’s Legal Assist team then worked to review the project and make recommendations on any red flags.
Some of the liability issues discussed included:
Should the ministry provide transitional housing or permanent? People experiencing homelessness chronically may pose different liabilities.
How long should the program allow people to stay in the homes? Where do renters’ rights come into play?
Should the ministry be open to both men and women? Which safety precautions will be needed?
Should the ministry be open to children? Again, safety precautions need to be considered.
Can the program decide who will qualify for housing based on age, gender, sexual orientation, and religion?
Will the ministry require ‘builder’s risk’ insurance?
Right now, four families are each living comfortably and safely in a stable, warm house where they can work on renewing and moving on with their lives. The Grove has received extensive local and national exposure focused on this ministry.
Not only that, but the congregation partnered with the local community to make this vision a reality: this project was funded and completed by both working together.
Fun fact: This project is considered the first of its kind in the United States. We believe this ministry is one that every house of worship should explore more closely.
If you’re looking for more information on how your ministry can serve individuals experiencing homelessness, you can grab a copy of the audio feed from our 2018 event: Effective Homeless Ministry. The recording provides some insightful perspectives on a problem that many churches are ministering to on a daily basis.